Importance of Non-Developer Supporters in Free Software

Posted 16 Apr 2000 at 15:07 UTC by roguemtl Share This

With the increase in size of many new and long-term free software development projects, it is important to recognize the crucial value non-developers may hold in advancing the efforts of these projects.

They may stand outside the spotlight on the project. They may not invest time in writing code. Whether they are on the listed staff of a project or not, project supporters who do not contribute code still play a crucial role in the day-to-day perception, acceptance and strength of most free software projects. The people most frequently recognized in conjunction with a project are the administrative staff (maintainer or lead developer) and the developers who contribute the largest portions or most important portions to the code base for the project. What of the others?

Developers usually test their changes prior to submitting them for inclusion in the project, though the time it take to do a complete evaluation of these changes is enormous. Many projects have official test staff, people who download the latest project materials and invest a considerable amount of time validating software functionality and bug fixes. Other projects have unofficial test staff, people who seem to live for new releases, downloading them as soon as they become available. The reports of testing staff help to make a free software project smoother, generating a higher quality final product and reducing the amount of time developers need to spend doing things other than writing code.

General project supporters come in many flavors. Some aid in the propagation of the software, assisting in large implementations of the software, installfests or providing inexpensive physical media (such as CDs) containing the software. Others provide themselves as a support resource for the product, helping new users in installation or implementation of the software, responding to concerns on mailing lists, and providing direct support via IRC for other end-users. Project supporters play an important role which reduces the amount of time developers and administrators need to invest in support, the foundation of all good projects.

Why are testing staff and general project supporters not often recognized for their efforts? In some cases, it is because the administration of a project is unaware of their efforts; people providing unofficial assistance for a project do not always make their efforts known to the administration of the project. In other cases, it is because developers and administrative staff may not understand the importance of these volunteers; they may ask more questions of the developers at times, but certainly reduce the overall question load.

It is my belief that administrative staff of free software projects should seek out information on people helping to support their efforts. These details should be showcased, not tucked away behind-the-scenes. Granted, some project supporters may not want to be in the spotlight, but I suspect most would not feel adversely about receiving due recognition.

On a few development projects, there is one other class who are often overlooked in correspondence, the end-user. It is important that every end-user receive a response to their question, even if the answer is one stating the software is not yet ready for public consumption. To ignore the comments of end-users, the issues they most frequently report during installation or use, or requests for assistance, is to abandon the best interests of your project. Without end-users and general support staff, who does your project help and who would be there to support them on a day-to-day basis?

To those who already make effort in recognizing those who support their projects, I applaud. For those not already making effort to recognize excellence in non-developers, I propose some basic things you can do to encourage this type of behavior. First, post a web page containing the names of those you wish to recognize for their efforts. Even if they stop these efforts in the future, leave their name on the recognition list; consider this an honor roll. Second, consider including them in project decisions you feel may affect them or may be of interest to them. Finally, give them verbal encouragement for their efforts; people who are thanked for their efforts are much more likely to continue in this capacity.

With the growth of free software worldwide, we must increase awareness on how people may help these projects and recognize those who already support our efforts. Most of our greatest supporters know no programming languages.

Copyright (C) 2000 Jacob Moorman.

Thank you..., posted 16 Apr 2000 at 16:11 UTC by scottyo » (Apprentice)

Often, a simple "thank you" or "good job" would suffice, and I have found that even that much is often overlooked. After awhile, a helpful person might think, "Well, if I'm not being all that helpful, I guess I'll just do something else."

You could argue that it all works out OK, because that person will move on to another project where perhaps s/he will be appreciated. However, it's too bad that all too often, a helper's first passion is not properly nurtured (acknowledged) and it then becomes possible, or even likely, that *that* level of passion will not be attained again...

Then again, sometimes "Thank you" is just not enough...

Artists!!!, posted 17 Apr 2000 at 00:08 UTC by Gimptek » (Journeyer)

People (especially in the Linux and *BSD communities) often overlook artists when they are doling out recognition. Linux wouldn't be this popular if it wasn't for Tux the penguin. Gnome wouldn't be the same without the foot and Gimp would just be the GNU Image Manipulation Program without Gimp the mascot. Both of those were made by Tigert. Tux was made by.... I don't know. That's the point. I know Linus and Miguel and Mosfet because they are prominent in high profile projects. I don't know the guy who did Tux (the original one with him sitting down), the person who did the Croc for KDE and all the other that's so prominent. This should change.

On a side note:

The new snapshot of Gimp for Windows just came out today. We Tor's up to 1.1.19 now. It's almost 1.2 now. For those of us locked into a windows only enviornment (or play games) Gimp is great. I use the Windows Port as my main design and manipulation tool at work. It's also useful for showing to my linux-skeptic design friends if there's anything useful other than programming tools coming from Linux.

It's too bad that it's so easy to get warez versions of Photoshop. If it wasn't for that fact, there would be hundreds of designers ready to switch over. I belive Warez is wrong and use the Gimp at home and Photoshop at school. I've seen web sites. Linux needs some good designers and needs them quick.

I've started a project called Form Factor here on Advogato. Anyone with design skills or seeking to get some design skills should sign up. I'd like to see some sites renovated and redone. Some of the best projects have no sites. Including my beloved Gimp/Win port site. Tor is definately a programmer and not a designer.

encouraging volunteers, posted 17 Apr 2000 at 06:48 UTC by lkcl » (Master)

i tend to put the name of the person that contributed or found a problem into the cvs commit messages. if i know that they are not on the list, i send them a copy. this tends to elicit a huge "thank you", as the contributors really appreciate it.

about Tux the penguin.., posted 17 Apr 2000 at 09:23 UTC by tigert » (Master)

Just a quick bit of info about the penguin:

It was drawn by Larry Ewing, one of the early Gimp developers. Yes, he did the image with the Gimp.

Question?, posted 18 Apr 2000 at 22:51 UTC by sethcohn » (Master)

Speaking of artists, what websites would be critical to announce something like a Design Contest on? I guess the more general question would be: Where do these non-coders hang out, and how do we reach out to them?

Personally, my approach (having to deal with all sorts of non-techy all day, and explain stuff to them) is that I try to make their lives easier, and find ways to do that. Usually they don't know enough about the possiblities to know that solutions exists. It's my job to find solutions, and then get feedback as to how those solutions work, and rework the answer until they are happy.

Where do non-coders hang out.., posted 19 Apr 2000 at 11:39 UTC by jennv » (Journeyer)

Well, some of us hang out here.

Jenn V.

New project relationships?, posted 20 Apr 2000 at 04:14 UTC by Kalana » (Journeyer)

How about adding a new relationship-to-project or two to advogato? Perhaps "Enthusiastic User", "Advocate", or "Interested Observer". (Some of this could possibly be covered by "Helper", though to me, helper seems to imply more of a coordination or management role)

And then there were the IT managers, posted 26 Apr 2000 at 14:30 UTC by shevek » (Apprentice)

yes, i know, the unpopular ones, the suits, the pointy-haired bosses...not. one of the reasons open source has gotten so much press is because of all those IT managers throughout the world who have silently put open source software in place, usually against the advice of the real suits (you know, the ones who only want corporate software on "their" servers).

the folks who just port it and go, too.

Heh I'm one of these people, posted 15 Jun 2000 at 16:25 UTC by hadess » (Master)

Yep, I do help people in installation (I was part of a LUG before moving), I write articles for a paper magazine (and my e-mail is at the bottom for the readers to contact me), I translate Window Maker in french, I write some themes and dockapps, I send bug reports whenever I can and I try to run a project.

The problem is that I'm nobody, I don't receive that much e-mail, the ones I send often go right to the bin and I just don't have good enough programming and graphics capabilities to be able to handle everything myself.

I think I will write down all the software ideas I've got, for everybody to share, and do the implementation myself, even if somebody actually maintains the stuff after. I want the software and consideration, not to be a God.

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